MACHIAS, Maine — Since launching the Washington County Children’s Chorus nearly 20 years ago, director Christine Guy has seen her efforts come full circle.
It is difficult to recruit music educators to Washington County, said Guy, and one of her goals has been to encourage young people to pursue careers in music education and to return to Washington County to teach.
“This is one way to get people back here teaching,” said Guy, who talked about the chorus on Monday. “I think it would just be a wonderful thing.”
In fact, one former member of the children’s chorus, Sarah Holsapple, has done just that; Holsapple is a music teacher at Elm Street School in East Machias. In addition, three other former members of the children’s chorus are studying music education — and majoring in voice and choral instruction — at the University of Maine.
Guy and her husband, Doug, moved to Washington County in 1995, and she learned that, although there were music instructors in the region, none were specialists in voice. “After a while I just realized … this would be something that I could do to help out,” said Guy. She started the chorus the same year with a group of nine youngsters.
Guy earned a music education degree at the University of Southern Maine, specializing in voice and choral instruction. She taught private voice and piano at the University of Maine-Machias for 13 years. She and her husband also have been very active in the annual musical production that is put on in conjunction with the Machias Wild Blueberry Festival — him writing parody lyrics for the production numbers some years and her directing the musical. Guy, who volunteers as the director of the children’s chorus, is director of music ministry at Centre Street Congregational Church in Machias, where the group frequently rehearses.
The current version of the chorus has 35 members, about 10 boys and 25 girls. Children may join as young as age 7 and through high school. Some graduates occasionally continue to participate.
Guy deliberately keeps the members evenly divided as to age so that an inordinate number will not graduate in any given year. “The younger ones learn from the older ones, and the older ones learn how to be teachers,” said Guy.
Youths must pass an audition, exhibit appropriate attention span and make a commitment to participate in rehearsals. The group ordinarily rehearses weekly for 90-120 minutes at Centre Street Congregational Church in Machias. The chorus performs an annual holiday concert during the Christmas season as well as a spring concert and also performs on occasion with other groups.
The chorus currently is raising funds to take the youngsters on a trip to France near the end of June. During the 10-day trip they will perform alone and with a French choral group. The chorus also will participate in activities commemorating World War II and perform at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.
The music the chorus rehearses and performs is both challenging and different, observed Guy, who does not incorporate popular music into the group’s repertoire. “They just love making the sounds we can make,” she said.
Four years after she started the chorus, the group was tossed into the spotlight. Singer Judy Collins was scheduled to appear in concert at the Maine Center for the Arts in Orono, and a chorale group that was to sing with her had to cancel. Guy received a phone call, asking if the children’s chorus could step in. “I said yes. I didn’t know any better.” The children’s chorus performed their own selections for about 20 minutes, then sang back-up for Collins. “They really did an outstanding job,” said Guy. The 1999 appearance with Collins led to trips and performances in Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Europe.
There is no membership fee or any other costs associated with joining the chorus, an important consideration for Guy. “I insist that it does not cost the children anything,” she said. “Anyone can feel comfortable joining.” The chorus is served by other volunteers, and any expenses, such as to purchase music and for travel, is accomplished by fundraising. “Anyone who wants to do this kind of thing needs to have the opportunity,” said Guy. Children should not have to make a decision about joining a chorus based on whether their family can afford it, she added — a point that probably has more meaning in Washington County, one of Maine’s poorest counties.
The appreciation of music and singing skills are things children can take forward with them the rest of their lives, said Guy. “I can’t do cheerleading now,” she said, but she can still enjoy music and sing.
It will cost about $67,000 to send the youths to France for 10 days. The chorus has a list of long-time supporters it relies on for donations and the group has raised some funds but still is seeking about $42,000.
“We’re asking people to be extra generous this year,” said Guy’s husband, who handles much of the organization’s fundraising and administrative chores. He also has been developing the itinerary and performances in France with the aid of Robert Getchell, an American opera singer who lives in France and is the son of Walter Getchell of Marshfield.
Donations may be made online through the group’s website or mailed to: Washington County Children’s Chorus, P.O. Box 708, Machias, ME, 04654. (The chorus also is on Facebook; look up Washington County Children’s Chorus.)
The public is invited to attend an open rehearsal by the Washington County Children’s Chorus at 3 p.m. March 2 at Centre Street Congregational Church.